Mid-Atlantic Regional Group 

Blinded Veterans Association

www.margbva.org

 

BLIND FAITH - Short Story

By JEANNE MARIE LASKAS

As debris and chaos rained down on Michael Hingson and his guide dog, Roselle, on September 11th, their bond was put to its ultimate test. Both passed with flying colors.

Two years ago, on the morning of September 11th, Michael Hingson a sales manager for a computer data storage company, was hosting a meeting in his office on the 78th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center.  Suddenly, he heard a deafening boom.  The building shook and swayed so violently it seamed it might snap like a twig.  It was obvious that something very terrible has happened.  But no one knew exactly what-least of all the then 51-year-old Hingson, who is blind.

As the world would learn later, a plane had crashed into the vicinity of the 96th floor. Hingson’s guide dog, Roselle, a 3-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, was normally one to sleep through meetings.  The boom promptly brought her out from under Hingson’s desk, as if reporting for duty.  He took hold of her harness and did not let go. A co-worker, David Frank, said he could see debris, pieces of burning paper, falling outside the window. He could also see fire.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” Frank said.  Hingson said, “Take our guests to the stairwell, then we’ll leave.”

Hingson knew to keep calm. He had learned to do so at age 14 with Squire, his first guide dog, by practicing the composure that teamwork demanded: Keep calm so you keep your dog calm; you are a team.

“Left…right…forward…halt…left,” he commanded, reminding Roselle of the direction to the stairwell, with Frank leading the way.  &;Make way!&; &;She's been hurt!&; &;He needs medical attention!&; people yelled as they assisted victims from floors above who had suffered terrible injuries from the mysterious blast. There was heat-and a strange odor. What was it? Kerosene? &;Jet fuel,&; Hingson said to the others. He had long ago learned to trust his sense of smell. The group, forming a human-canine chain down the stairwell, figured an airplane had crashed into the building. They stayed calm and made a steady pace. Roselle began panting heavily. Hingson heard her and commanded her to keep going.

Teamwork. Trust. It seamed Hingson and Roselle were putting the very foundation of the human-canine bond to its ultimate test. It was a bond that had come to define Hingson's life ever since squire, who remained his best friend and guide dog through college. Then came Holland, who accompanied him on his first date with his future wife, Karen, and who walked down the isle with him at their wedding. Then came Klondike, who went with Hingson on sales calls, the two accruing over half a million airline miles.

Linnie was by his side as the computer company he worked for, Artecon, grew and moved from California to the east coast. And, of course, Roselle was there to help him celebrate as the firm opened its new office in the World Trade Center on August 1, 2000.

Roselle had been with Hingson 20 months when the terrorist attacks occurred on September 11th, 2001. Down, down, down. Finally, the group reached the 30th floor, when Hingson felt jostling. Then he heard people clapping. &;Firefighters!&; someone said. They had arrived for the rescue. More applause. Hingson asked the firefighters if they needed any help. Would they like him to turn around and help carry things up the stairs perhaps? The firefighters told him to keep going. They bend down and petted Roselle. &;keep going,&; one of them said to her. &;Good dog, good dog,&; said others. Roselle happily licked their hands and faces, kissing them as a dog receiving praise will do.

Down, down, down, the group kept going. Hingson tried to cheer people up. &;Don't anybody worry if the lights go out, because Roselle and I are offering a half-price special to help you out today,&; he said. People laughed nervously. It took 50 minutes to make it down to the lobby, which had turned into a pool of water. Roselle stopped to take a drink. &;Forward!&; Hingson sternly commanded. They made it to the street and headed with Frank to his car. And that's when the chaos came down all around them. A gigantic tumble of metal and concrete. The south tower, which they had no idea was even hit, was tumbling to the ground within 300 feet of them. Everyone ran for their lives. Madness. Dust. Screams of terror.

&;Hop up!&; he said to Roselle. &;Hop up!&; It's a special command that means pay attention, hurry, don't get distracted. &;Hop up!&; he said, as calmly as he could manage, as he held on to her harness for his life, for her life, and they ran away from the dust cloud, which was engulfing them. Hingson still had no idea what was happening. Terror began to seize him, but he absolutely refused to be afraid-for Roselle's sake, he couldn't lose focus. &;Hop up! Hop up!&;

The pair happened upon a subway station entrance, where others had found shelter from the dust. &;I can't see!&; a woman was shouting, temporarily blinded by the dust. Hingson followed her voice and found her, grabbed hold of her arm. &;Don't worry,&; he said. &;I'm blind, and I have a guide dog named Roselle, and she'll take care of both of us.&; The group began moving together by foot uptown, away from the disaster, as the woman regained her sight. About 10 minutes later, there came a second great blast, another waterfall of metal and concrete. Hingson knew instinctively it was the north tower, the building from which he and Roselle had just narrowly escaped.

Far enough away to be safe, he called Karen on a cell phone and broke down in tears. He sobbed tears that seamed connected to hell and yet also to heaven. He hugged Roselle, who was perfectly calm. He hugged and hugged her, unable to find words. Finally, he said, &;Good dog. Good dog.&;

Two years later, he is still saying it. Hingson now works for the San Rafael, California-based Guide Dogs for the Blind, giving speeches around the world celebrating the human-animal bond, often with Roselle at his side. &;She plays hard when she gets to play, and works hard when she has to,&; says Hingson. &;She has been the perfect dog.&; He thinks about those firefighters who stopped to pet her on the way up in the burning tower. He thinks about how Roselle answered them with dog kisses. He thinks those just may have been the last moments of unconditional love those brave people felt. &;Good dog.&; he says. &;Good Dog.&;

End of Story

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